⚠️ We are working hard to ensure this guidance is up to date. However, you should bear in mind that things may change as the government respond to the ongoing situation.

Coronavirus: Scams: please be vigilant!

Updated on 21 October 2020

There are reports that scammers are using the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation to try to steal money or valuable personal information or get access to your computer or network.

phishing email computer scam (c) Shutterstock / DRogatnev
(c) Shutterstock / DRogatnev

Tax-related scams

If someone texts, emails or calls claiming to be from HMRC, saying that you are owed a tax refund or can claim financial help and asks you to click on a link or to give information such as your name, credit card or bank details, it’s a scam.

Further to our news piece ‘HMRC tax refund scammers use the coronavirus fears as bait’, explaining the ‘phishing’ phenomenon and explaining what to do if you receive bogus contact, HMRC have issued a warning and some examples of the coronavirus-related phishing – we have reproduced the relevant extract below.

COVID-19 related scams

HMRC is aware of a phishing campaign telling customers they can claim a tax refund to help protect themselves from the corona outbreak.

Do not reply to the email and do not open any links in the message.

The email has been issued in various formats.

An example of this scam is below:

HMRC scam phishing email example

Source: HMRC

SMS scams

‘Goodwill payment’ SMS

HMRC is aware of the coronavirus SMS scams telling customers they can claim a ‘goodwill payment’. Do not reply to the SMS and do not open any links in the message.

This is an example of the scam wording:

‘As Part of the NHS promise to battle the COV- 19virus, HMRC has issued a payment of £258 as a goodwill payment. Follow link to apply.’.

‘£250 fine’ SMS

HMRC is aware of a SMS scam which states you will be fined £250 for leaving the house more than once. The message asks recipients to call an 0800 telephone number to appeal.

Do not reply to the SMS or call the phone number listed.

An example of the scam is shown below:

HMRC coronavirus scam text alert example

⚠️ LITRG note: Text message scams often appear to come from a legitimate sender – for example, we are aware that some of the latest SMS scams have been made to appear from the sender UK_Gov – the sender of the official government text message“GOV.UK CORONAVIRUS ALERT New rules in force now: you must stay at home. More information and exemptions can be found at gov.uk/coronavirus Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” The government have confirmed that it has only sent out this one text message – if you see any others claiming to be from the government – they are false.

HMRC’s advice

  • Recognise the signs – genuine organisations like banks and HMRC will never contact you out of the blue to ask for your bank details, PIN or password.
  • Stay safe – don’t give out private information, reply to text messages, download attachments or click on links in text messages or emails you weren’t expecting.
  • Take action – forward suspicious emails claiming to be from HMRC to phishing [at] hmrc.gov.uk and text to 60599.
  • Check GOV.UK for information on how to avoid and report scams and to recognise genuine HMRC contact.
  • If you think you have received an HMRC-related phishing or bogus email or text message, you can check it against examples published on GOV.UK.
  • Contact your bank immediately if you believe you’ve submitted card details to a scammer and report to Action Fraud if you suffer financial loss. 

Other scams

This bulletin from the National Crime Agency details some of the other COVID-19 fraud and scams that are happening (there may be others):

Online Shopping and Auction Fraud

  • Seek advice: If you’re purchasing goods and services from a company or person you don’t know and trust, carry out some research first, and ask friends or family for advice before completing a purchase.

  • Scam messages: Be wary of unsolicited emails and texts offering questionably good deals, and never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details.

  • Payment method: Avoid paying for good and services by bank transfer as that offers you little protection if you become a victim of fraud. Instead, use a credit card or payment services such as PayPal.

  • If you have made a payment: Inform your bank as soon as possible, they can help you prevent any further losses. Monitor your bank statements regularly for any unusual activity.

Computer Software Service Fraud

  • Installing software: Never install any software, or grant remote access to your computer, as a result of a cold call.
  • Financial details: Genuine organisations would never contact you out of the blue to ask for financial details such as your PIN or full banking password.
  • Tech support: If you need tech support, ask your friends or family for recommendations and look for reviews online first. Don’t contact companies promoting tech support services via browser pop-ups.
  • If you have made a payment: Inform your bank as soon as possible, they can help you prevent any further losses. Monitor your bank statements regularly for any unusual activity.
  • If you granted remote access to your computer: Seek technical support to remove any unwanted software from your computer. Ask your friends or family for recommendations and look for reviews online first. Don’t contact companies promoting tech support services via browser pop-ups.

Lender Loan Fraud

  • Seek advice first: Speak with a trusted friend or family members first if you’re using a loan company you’re unfamiliar with, or if the lender requires an up-front fee.
  • Scam messages: Don’t click on the links or attachments in suspicious emails, and never respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial details.
  • FCA register: Use the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) register to check if the company is regulated by the FCA. If you deal with a firm (or individual) that isn’t regulated, you may not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) if things go wrong and you lose your money.
  • If you have made a payment: Inform your bank as soon as possible, they can help you prevent any further losses. Monitor your bank statements regularly for any unusual activity.

Pension Liberation fraud

  • Investment opportunities: Don’t be rushed into making an investment. Remember, legitimate organisations will never pressure you into making a transaction on the spot.
  • Seek advice first: Before making significant financial decisions, speak with trusted friends or family members, or seek professional independent advice. The Pension Advisory Service (PAS) also provides free independent and impartial information and guidance.
  • FCA register: Use the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) register to check if the company is regulated by the FCA. If you deal with a firm (or individual) that isn’t regulated, you may not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) if things go wrong and you lose your money.
  • Tax charges: Ensure sure you are aware of any tax charges (up to 70%), plus other fees, that will be deducted from the amount you withdraw before making any decisions. (⚠️ LITRG note: Also be aware that there may be consequences for any benefits you receive).

Investment Fraud

  • Investment opportunities: Don’t be rushed into making an investment. Remember, legitimate organisations will never pressure you into making a transaction on the spot.
  • Seek advice first: Speak with a trusted friend or family members, and seek independent professional advice before making significant financial decisions.
  • FCA register: Use the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) register to check if the company is regulated by the FCA. If you deal with a firm (or individual) that isn’t regulated, you may not be covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) if things go wrong and you lose your money.

Consumers are urged to:

  • Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
  • Challenge: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
  • Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud. Reporting to Action Fraud can be done online or by calling 0300 123 2040.
Coronavirus guidance: more information
Information for employers Taking money from your savings
What is the Job Retention Scheme? Taking money from your pension
Employees: illness or self-isolation Help with paying your tax
Employees: work changes Information if you are a student or are repaying your student loan
Employees: universal credit and pay Accessing money in childcare schemes
Redundancy explained High Income Child Benefit Charge: What to do if your income falls?
Support for limited company directors School closures: family members might be able to claim state pension ‘babysitting’ credits
Self-Employment Income Support Scheme Childcare support and benefits for children
SEISS parental extension Inheritance tax exemption
Self-employment and paying tax Support for Carers
Self employment: Illness or self-isolation Carer’s allowance: can you claim?
Self-employment: work changes Volunteering and job opportunities
Help for businesses in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales Scams: please be vigilant!
Test and Trace Support payment Dealing with HMRC during the coronavirus outbreak

Tax penalties: coronavirus ‘relaxations’

Coronavirus guidance home page

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